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Building a data-driven startup:

· Business,Africa,Entrepreneurship

"In God we trust, all others must bring data." - W. Edwards Deming

'Data is the new oil.' 'Data fuels competition.' 'Data channels revenue.' Whenever I interact with tech companies, data seems to be a buzz-word during discussions. However, despite the awareness and impact of data, it's increasingly rare to come across a business that is truly data-driven. Decisions across a plethora of business units are still being made based on emotions; sometimes just intuition. There is no doubt this works for some businesses; in my observation, early-stage companies. However, what I believe makes entrepreneurs great and businesses thrive is a determination and the ability to communicate and understand data.

On the African continent, there is data in abundance, which could be analyzed for decision-making. For example, agripreneurs are now in a position to guarantee crops for the following year due to a prediction of rainfall. Or medical professionals can now detect cancer, based on historical trends. So recently, I connected with Johannes Ebert in Nairobi-Kenya to learn a more about his work at Gravity. Gravity empowers people to store and share personal data whenever and with whoever they want, thereby unlocking people’s access to these otherwise inaccessible services. Curious to understand his thoughts on building a data-driven business in East Africa, the following questions and responses followed;

How do you value the importance of data in your business? What does having a data-driven business mean to you as a techpreneur?

As a trained data scientist, I was aware of the importance of data for Business Intelligence, marketing etc. However, as an entrepreneur, I quickly realized that it's impossible to take any strategic decision without data. I am finding myself making implicit assumptions before reminding myself that I am basing these assumptions on anecdotal evidence. At the same time, it is relatively difficult to obtain reliable market data in Africa against which one can quickly test assumption. Checking assumptions against market data for strategic decision making is one important aspect of having a data-driven business that, I think is often underestimated. Data-driven product development is the next step.

What did it take for to incorporate a data-driven approach, and what steps/strategies would you advice other businesses to follow?

For all data in the organization, think data-consumer first. Make sure all data is accessible through interfaces or visualization tools that do not require programming experience.

Do you currently have a data scientist/analyst on your team? If so, what was the process taken to identify the right candidate? If not, do you see the company needing one in the future?

We currently have one data scientist. During the selection process, we focus on the conceptual understanding of how to undertake a data science project from A-Z.

In your opinion, which other companies on the African continent are using data to create meaningful experiences for their consumers?

I think Pezesha is a good example of using data to provide a meaningful high impact product.

What is your hope for the future of data-driven decision making on the African continent?

I hope that there will be more efforts to collect meaningful market data and consumer research. I appreciated BFA / FIBRs approach to conduct and share research about the SME financing sector. However, their samples were very small. I think donor sponsored programs can provide a lot of value here since they also do not have any conflict of interest when it comes to sharing their findings. It would benefit the ecosystem a lot.



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